An appraisal of the right to privacy in Cameroon
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This thesis deals with an Appraisal of the Right to Privacy in Cameroon. Privacy rights have always been a huge problem in our society, as many people have always been faced with privacy rights being violated. This study reveals that Cameroon is not the only country that respects and supports the safeguarding of the right to privacy, and that privacy can be traced as far back as 1961 when the justice of the Peace Act in England provided for the arrest of peeping Toms and Eavesdroppers.
As a result of this, the government of Cameroon has gone ahead to support the fact that people’s privacy should be upheld and respected by ratifying laws which are in support of privacy rights such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and many others. Cameroon itself went further to ensure privacy rights are safeguarded and protected in its laws such as the Penal Code and even the Constitution. In addition, the laws provide sanctions for individuals who fail to uphold and strictly abide by the protection of such rights.
The study reveals that there are many ways to violate personal privacy, such as hacking into their social media accounts. However, it clearly explains that certain persons shall not be able to enforce their rights under such reasons. Such as, persons considered to be public figures. The study further makes it known that even though Cameroon is out to ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected, the laws itself still have certain loopholes because these rights still continuously remain violated by other individuals and the government themselves, and the perpetrators succeed to go about freely without being punished.
The study, therefore, recommends that the government needs to prioritize and increase the laws governing respect to privacy, as well as Cameroonians need to be educated on issues relating to the understanding of the concepts of privacy. By so doing, it will go a long way to ensure that persons privacy rights are respected and help to reduce the number of cases in courts dealing with intruding in privacy rights.
Privacy is core to what it means to be human and it is a basic human right itself. It is also a fundamental human right recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Right and in many other international and regional treaties such as The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and even The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Privacy underpins human dignity and other values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. It has become the most important human right issue of the modern age. The law of privacy can be traced as far back as 1961 when the justice of the Peace Act in England provided for the arrest of Peeping Toms and Eavesdroppers.
Almost all countries around the world recognized a right to privacy implicitly or explicitly in their constitution. The Bill of Rights however reflects the concern of James Madison and other framers for protecting specific aspects of privacy can be defined as a fundamental (though not an absolute) human right. In 1765, British Lord Camden, striking down a warrant to enter a house and seize papers wrote, “We can safely say there is no law in this country to justify the defendants in what they have done; if there was, it would destroy all the comforts of society, for papers are often the dearest property a man can have.” Parliamentarian William Pitt wrote, “The poorest man may in the cottage bid defiance to all the force of the crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter- – but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement”.
Various countries developed specific protection for privacy in the centuries that followed. In 1776, the Swedish Parliament enacted the “Access to Public Records Act” which required that all government-held information be used for legitimate purposes. In 1792, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen declared that private property is inviolable and sacred. France prohibited the publication of private facts and set stiff fines in 1858. In 1890, American lawyers Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis wrote a seminal piece on the right to privacy as a tort action describing privacy as “the right to be left alone”.
The U.S Supreme Court, in two decisions in the 1920s, read the Fourteenth Amendment’s liberty clause to prohibit states from interfering with the private decision of educators and parents to shape the education of children. In Meyer v. Nebraska the Supreme Court struck down a state law that prohibited the teaching of German and other foreign languages to children until the ninth grade. The state argued that foreign languages could lead to inculcating in students “ideas and sentiments foreign the best interests of this country.” The court, however, in a 7 to 2 decision written by Justice McReynolds concluded that the state failed the show a compelling need to infringe upon the rights of parents and teachers to decide what course of education is best for young students. Justice McReynolds wrote:
“While this court has not attempted to define with exactness and liberty thus guaranteed, the term has received much consideration and some of the included things have been definitely stated. Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by freemen”
Two years later, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the court applied the principles of Meyer to strike down an Oregon law that compelled all children to attend public schools, a law that would have effectively closed all parochial schools in the state.
The privacy doctrine of the 1920s gained renewed life in the Warren Court of the 1960s when, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the court struck down a state law prohibiting the possession, sale, and distribution of contraceptive to married couples. Different justifications were offered for the conclusion, ranging from Court’s opinion by Justice Douglas that saw the “penumbras” and “emanations” of various Bill of Rights guarantees as creating “a zone of privacy”, to Justice Goldberg’s partial reliance on the Ninth Amendment’s reference to “other rights retained by the people,” to Justice Harlan’s decision arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Liberty clause forbade the state from engaging in conduct ( such as search of marital bedrooms for evidence of illicit contraceptives) that was inconsistent with a government based “on the concept of ordered liberty.”
In 1969, the Court unanimously concluded that the right of privacy protected an individual’s right to possess and view pornography (including pornography that might be the basis for a criminal prosecution against its manufacturer or distributor) in his own home. For one to be able to have his privacy, he should be able to sit in the comfort of his home and read books of his choice, watch movies of his choice and do many other things of his choice. The law should have no business telling a man what to do in the comfort of his own home. Our constitutional heritage should therefore rebel at the thought of giving the government the power to control men’s minds.
Also, the Burger Court extended the right to privacy to include a woman’s right to have an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The Alaska Supreme Court found constitutional protection for the right of a citizen to possess and use small quantities of marijuana in his own home. The Supreme Court said in 1977 in Moorev. East Cleveland that “the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition”. Moore found privacy protection for an extended family’s choice of living arrangements, striking down a housing ordinance that prohibited a grandmother from living together with her two grandsons. Justice Powell said, “The choice of relatives in this degree of kinship to live together may not lightly be denied by the state.”
The Courts went further to recognize in 1990 in Cruzan v. MissouriDepartment of Health that an individual has the liberty interest that includes the right to make decisions to terminate life-prolonging medical treatments although the Courts accepted that states can impose certain conditions on the exercise of that right. In 2003, the Supreme Court overruled an earlier decision in Lawrence v. Texas that found that Texas violated the liberty clause of two gay men when it enforced against them a state law prohibiting homosexual sodomy. The court reaffirmed in broad terms the Constitution’s protections for privacy.
Interest in the right of privacy increased in the 1960s and 1970s with the coming of information technology (IT). The surveillance potential of powerful computer systems prompted demands for specific rules governing the collection and handling of personal information. In several countries, new constitutions reflect this right. The origin of modern legislation in this area can be traced to the first data protection law in the world enacted in the Land of Hesse in Germany in 1970. This was followed by national laws in Sweden (1973), the United States, Germany (1977) and France (1978).
Privacy is a basic human right that gives birth to liberty. This is because if one does not have privacy, he, therefore, has no liberty. Jean Jacques Rousseau a French writer and philosopher said: “man is born free but everywhere in chains”. Lord Akin in his observation in Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932), pointed the right to privacy when he pointed out that one must take reasonable care as to acts that do not affect his neighbour.
The right to privacy is provided for by the constitution in its Preamble which is the law as per Article 45 of the Human Declaration of Human Rights, and through the penal code which protects the right of persons.
Privacy law in Cameroon embodies several legal concepts, one is the invasion of privacy, a tort-based in common law, allowing an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit against an individual who unlawfully intrudes into his or her private affairs, discloses his or her private information, publicizes him or her in a false light or appropriates his or her name for personal gain. Public figures have less privacy and this is an evolving area of the law as it relates to the media. This is because as a public figure, the life of the individual is open to the public. The public tends always want to find out about their lives, marriages, education and many more. As a public figure, the media tends to always write about them, digging into their personal lives, calling them for interviews, and a result of these, it greatly reduces their privacy.
It is true that Cameroon is against the violation of the privacy of individuals and even goes further to provide for sanctions for persons who go contrary to this. Nevertheless, Cameroon is not without problems in relation to the violation of the privacy rights of individuals. For example, sometimes the law enforcement officials may violate persons privacy rights by forcefully entering into their homes.
One of the greatest problems of the study is the fact that privacy rights are hardly respected in our society today, and even when some are respected, they can never be respected to the fullest. We therefore only seek to ensure that the most important of these rights are respected by the court and the state.
In our societies today, many individuals do not consider privacy rights as something to which a lot of importance should be attributed to, they, therefore, turn to shy away to enforce these rights when they are being violated by the state.
As concerns the emerging of the internet, even though Cameroon has ratified the 2010 Law on Cyber Criminality, to kick against and punish persons who use the internet for fraudulent activities and even infringing on a person’s privacy, protection of privacy rights has become a problem. The recording of information about specific interest activities has become one of the biggest threats. People no longer have full privacy on the internet, a lot of scamming now arose and people’s personal information are being hacked into and some even scammed of lots of money. Persons use the internet to get personal information about others, such as hacking into their Facebook pages, What Sapp, and even Twitter accounts. Violation of privacy particularly concerning technology is a very big problem that has to be looked into and tried to be critically dealt with.
There exist too many different customs and backgrounds, making it a problem to be able to know what really can be considered private, because what is considered private to one may not be the same to another person. Also, what are yardstick can we use to ascertain if a particular situation is considered private and the other is not.
The major questions arising here are;
- How does the law protect privacy rights in Cameroon?
- What are the various ways in which privacy rights can be violated?
- How effective are the laws on privacy?
- What policy recommendations can be made for the right to privacy to be effective?
- To examine the extent to which the right to privacy is protected under the Cameroonian legal framework.
- To discuss and carefully bring out the various ways in which privacy rights can be violated.
- To analyze the effectiveness of the laws governing the respect of the rights to privacy.
- To make policy recommendation with respect to the right to privacy.
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